Longevity Meme Newsletter, July 25 2005

July 25 2005

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.



- What the Actuaries Think of It All
- Which Billionaires Should Aubrey de Grey Pitch?
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Some of you may find the actuarial point of view on the prospects for healthy life extension to be interesting:


"Several leading gerontologists are engaged in a spirited and even vituperous debate regarding the prospects for human longevity. The issue is what life expectancy will be just after mid-century in the industrialized countries, and, more particularly, in the United States in 2060. The debate on the future of life expectancy is closely linked to such issues as the possibilities for extending average recorded human life span, the existence of limits to human life span and life expectancy, the form of the trajectory of age-specific mortality rates at the highest ages of life and the utility of developing projections of mortality on the basis of causes of death.

Actuarial circles seem fairly conservative with respect to healthy life extension, rather like a large portion of the gerontology community. If this selection of articles is any guide, most actuaries regard it as somewhat radical to suggest that current trends in human longevity may continue, never mind greatly accelerate due to funding of serious anti-aging medicine."


There comes a point in the growth of every successful popular movement when you have to start thinking seriously about approaching very high net worth individuals - the billionaires. The healthy life extension community is approaching this point; it is becoming large enough and successful enough to focus media and public attention on high-profile representatives. High profile enough to get into the right conferences, parties and social networks, in any case - which is what counts if you want to convert media and public attention into funding for scientific research to develop a cure for degenerative aging:


If everything goes according to plan over the next few years, growth will build on growth. The public figures at the sharp end of the healthy life extension community - such as biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey - will see ever more doors opened. Which leads us to speculate: which billionaires should the community - via its proxy representatives - aim to pitch for funding in the years ahead? Read on and comment at this Fight Aging! post:



The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.

Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward it on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!


Founder, Longevity Meme



Stress Response And Life Span (July 24 2005)
AScribe reports on results from one of the first experiments making use of automated methods of sorting and analysing large numbers of nematode worms. "University of Colorado at Boulder scientists have used a fluorescent marker to predict the individual life spans of identical worms that were genetically engineered to illuminate stress levels, implying living organisms have 'hidden physiological states' that dictate their ability to deal with the rigors of life. ... We have shown it's possible to predict the life span in an organism on the first day of adult life based on how it responds to stress. ... Carried out using about 100,000 popular laboratory nematodes known as C. elegans, the study indicated the brightness level triggered by the reporter protein could predict up to a four-fold variation in the life expectancy of a worm."

ACT On SCNT-Based Therapies (July 24 2005)
(From the Life Extension Foundation News). Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) is back to work on therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT) to repair age-damaged immune systems: "These cloned stem cells appear to have a powerful regenerative capacity ... The ability to regenerate an aged or defective immune system without the need for drugs, tissue matching, or the risk of graft-versus-host disease would have important implications for medicine. We hope to use this technology in the future to treat patients with diverse diseases such as marrow failure disorders, various genetic diseases and malignancies, as well as debilitating autoimmune diseases, including MS, arthritis, diabetes, and lupus."

What The Politicians Are Up To, Part II (July 23 2005)
For those keeping tabs on US federal stem cell politics, an update from the New York Times: "A measure to expand federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research, passed by the House and once considered a shoo-in for adoption by the Senate, is tangled up in a procedural dispute that will probably delay a vote until fall - and could wind up killing the bill." Some pointers on how to have your say in this matter can be found here at the Longevity Meme. To my mind, research would be moving much more rapidly in a world without governments able to interfere in every aspect of life - sadly, we do not live in that world. Thus we are beset with endless battles and resources wasted in struggles over power and control.

FuturePundit On Mitochondrial Research (July 23 2005)
Randall Parker offers his thoughts on recent research into mitochondria and aging over at FuturePundit. He notes that "Prolla thinks an obvious next step would be to genetically engineer mice to have a lower rate of accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutation." This is good - showing that increased damage reduces life span is only half the battle. There are plenty of line items that can reduce life span but have no real connection to aging; the conclusive proof would be to demonstrate that lower mutation rates increase life span. Then, "we can begin to think about pharmaceutical interventions to retard aging by preserving mitochondrial function. ... Hopefully Prolla's report will be seen by the scientific community as a reason to do the work necessary to genetically engineer mitochondrial genes to move them into the nucleus."

Fishing For Alzheimer's Drugs (July 22 2005)
While scientists use the tools of modern biotechnology to uncover the mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease, another path forward lies in low-cost mass analysis of potential drugs. Bioinformatics and new tools have made the process of screening potential compounds comparatively cheap - and the cost is still falling. Here, EurekAlert reports that a "team of scientists has discovered three molecules - from a search of 58,000 compounds - that appear to inhibit a key perpetrator of Alzheimer's disease.
Each of the three molecules protects the protein called 'tau,' which becomes hopelessly tangled in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's. The finding is promising news for the development of drugs for the disease." You may recall recent promising work on tau and neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer's.

Searching For Heart Stem Cells (July 22 2005)
From EurekAlert, a good example of investigative work by scientists seeking to understand the basis of healing and regeneration. Researcher Steven Houser "is sold on the idea that the heart - like the skin - contains its own stem cells: cells that are self-renewing and can be differentiated into different types of heart tissue. It's a controversial subject in cardiovascular circles, but for Houser, who spent thirty years studying the molecular biology of heart cells, the stakes are worth it when it comes to combating congestive heart failure (CHF). Although stem cells have been found in many other organs in the body, including the brain, many researchers remain unconvinced that the heart contains stem cells. Houser respectfully disagrees."

On Those Stem Cell "Alternatives" (July 21 2005)
Chemical & Engineering News looks at the various proposed "alternatives" to embryonic stem cell research. While the scientists at work are usually sincere in their exploration of stem cell biology, the politicians and groups pushing this research are invariably opposed to embryonic research on all the usual grounds - same old story, different day. "These so-called 'alternatives' are not true alternatives, as they currently represent only speculative proposals for research that might yield new stem cell lines and are fraught with their own ethical problems ... a bill that supports these alternatives instead of an expanded federal policy is 'a vote to delay biomedical research.'" Embryonic stem cell research is a necessary, important part of modern medical science - and freedom of research is vital.

Thinking About A Fifty-Year Cycle (July 21 2005)
From Genetic Engineering News, thoughts on the nature of fifty-year business cycles and where biotech is heading: "Combining the rapid advances currently being made in cell biology with genomics, proteomics, and nanotechnology, it may be possible, over the next decade, that scientists will be able to create and engineer artificial cells for generating new tissues, limbs, and organs. It may also be conceivable by 2030, when the biotechnology revolution reaches the end of its 50-year cycle, that the average life span of humans will reach 125 years, which would translate into todays 35-year-old adults being the equivalent of tomorrows 70-year-old adults. It may be a fact or just plain science fiction. Only time will tell."

Merck, Geron To Collaborate (July 20 2005)
In business news today from SFGate, Merck and Geron announced their collaboration on research into telomerase-based cancer therapies. Telomere science, like stem cell science, is a field in which any progress lends aid to aging and serious anti-aging research - these fields all overlap in their examination of cellular mechanisms, genetics and biochemistry. So prominent private funding deals are a welcome sight - they indicate that more progress is happening out of sight, and that funding organizations believe this work to be significant. "The partners plan to try both Merck's and Geron's vaccine-making methods in cancer therapies aimed at telomerase. Each will profit from whatever version works best."

Ronald Bailey On Liberation Biology (July 20 2005)
ScienceBlog is running an interview with Ronald Bailey on his latest book, Liberation Biology. "The benefits of biotechnology are well known -- the cure of diseases and disabilities for millions of sufferers; the production of more nutritious food with less damage to the natural environment; the enhancement of human physical and intellectual capacities. All of these benefits can be easily foreseen. It is the alleged dangers of biotechnology that are, in fact, ill-defined, and nebulous." The advance of biotechnology is indeed a liberation - a liberation first from sickness, then from degenerative aging, and finally from involuntary death. We are a thousand times better off than our ancestors for just the progress of the past century - and this is merely the beginning of a long, fascinating path of discovery and growth.

SIRT1 Further Examined (July 19 2005)
You may recall that SIRT1 is a major player in the mechanisms by which calorie restriction extends healthy life span. However, as reported at EurekAlert, "we showed that, unlike in yeast, mouse SIRT1 can function to suppress cellular longevity rather than to promote it. That has been a big surprise to the field since it does not fit with preconceived notions of the role of SIRT1 ... SIRT1 affects a particular response pathway to DNA-damaging oxidation. They found that SIRT1-deficient cells, in contrast to normal cells, continued to divide when treated chronically with low-level doses of oxidation-inducing hydrogen peroxide. However, the SIRT1-deficient cells had a normal senescence response when exposed to high-level oxidation or the activated cancer gene, Ras. Together, these results indicate that SIRT1 has a specific role in the response to chronic oxidative damage." More research is called for.

Kurzweil Charity Auction Raises $8000 (July 19 2005)
(Via KurzweilAI). The Mprize charity auction for lunch with futurist and healthy life extension advocate Ray Kurzweil ended on a high note last week: "Doug Arends of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, bidding for a group of Mprize (Methuselah Mouse Prize) supporters, placed the winning bid in an eBay auction for lunch with Dr. Ray Kurzweil, author of the best-seller Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. The winning bid came in at US $4,050.00. Dr. Kurzweil himself surprised Mprize supporters by offering a $4000 matching grant, nearly doubling the winning bid and bringing the Mprize fund up to over $1,460,000." The larger the fund, the more it will encourage scientists to work towards technologies of healthy life extension.

Evolution And Aging (July 19 2005)
The latest SAGE Crossroads article examines the evolution of evolutionary theories of aging: "The leading evolutionary explanation for aging has reached its silver years. Born in the late 1940s, the theory matured in the 1960s and flourished in the following decades, as researchers amassed evidence supporting its predictions. But like many of its contemporaries, the theory now needs to have a little work done. Evolution experts don't envision a makeover, merely a few nips and tucks to explain some vexing results from field studies and mathematical models." Evolutionary theories of aging help to direct research into the biochemical and genetic mechanisms of aging; like the Reliability Theory of aging, they provide a framework and testbed for more detail-oriented theories and examinations.

Tom Kirkwood On Aging (July 18 2005)
Another EMBO Reports paper for your reading pleasure today: "One of the greatest scientific mysteries, which has puzzled scientists for thousands of years, is what controls the length of life. At a time when human lifespan is increasing to previously unforeseen lengths, it is urgent that this ancient question is answered. Fortunately, recent progress suggests that the answers will soon be at hand. ... demographic trends over the past 2-3 decades have shown that, instead of reaching a plateau as most forecasters had predicted, human life expectancy has continued to increase and shows no sign of slowing. This has taken everyone by surprise, because the conventional view of ageing is that maximum life expectancy is somehow 'fixed'."



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